have stories. The teacher who became a translator; the computer geek
who became an IT technician; or the banker who married local and now
owns a bar. Inevitably, a split develops between the old timers -- the
ones who learned the language, married local, or are dead-set against
leaving -- and the short-timers, who talk over sake about the Japanese
idiosyncrasies they are just discovering. These are the same discussions
the older expats once had, though they are unlikely now to admit it. A
modest superiority builds among the old-timers, like the way Floridians
thumb their noses at pasty northern coming south for winter sun.
some in this crowd, leaving Tokyo after the quake was treasonous. They
fume on websites, calling foreigners who left "flyjins" -- a pun from
the Japanese word, gaijins, for foreigner. They claim those who fled
inaccurately judged the limited impact of the earthquake, tsunami, and
nuclear mishap. And they have a point.
Many fled immediately
after the earthquake. Others waited, but later took off after the
unclear government reports about the nuclear power plant and the vague
reassurances from a utility known to falsify records. The decision --
between living in an ongoing, seismically active, potentially radiated
environment versus fleeing to Singapore -- became easy. But their
departure has in some cases, much to the chagrin of locals and some
old-timers, disrupted businesses that relied on their work.
foreign media has become a main scapegoat for the exodus. No doubt the
overly dramatic, 24-hour new cycle contributed to the global hysteria.
(One television news producer asked me to be "dramatic" for my on-camera
interview.) In some cases, they overplayed fears with headlines like
"Get Out of Tokyo, Now" and on occasion made gross missteps, as with a
Fox News report on nuclear dangers at a concert venue in Tokyo, which
the network mistook for a power plant. That is inexcusable, but some of
media's inability to report was because they too had difficulty getting
straight facts and sound judgments from an initially reclusive
government and utility. The media was not alone in trying to make
responsible decisions in the dark. Even as recently as last week, the
International Atomic Energy Agency was unable to get info it sought to
make its own analysis.
Expats have continued to trickle out of
Japan for a myriad of reasons. Warnings of an impending large tremors;
nuclear uncertainty; a lack of confidence in the government or the
utility; impending food and electricity shortages; nagging relatives;
and a general choice to live somewhere without inconveniences. Those who
stayed ultimately did so for one reason -- they felt safe.
expat who stuck it out commented on a website that he had proudly
endured three months without water after the devastating 1995 Kobe
earthquake. Like many who stayed, he had harsh words for those who fled,
commenting that instead of remaining in Japan to help those in need,
they vanished without word. To be fair, many expats' connections to
their home country, families, and jobs might be a bigger influence on
their lives than neighbors they likely have not met.